The cars we loved.
Alfa Romeo has a solid reputation for building exciting sports cars. Even its most pedestrian sedans offer some level of performance and finesse. But for the everyday working Joe during 1960s Italy, a 33 Stradale or Gran Sport Quattroruote were just out of reach. To remedy this, Alfa took from its do everything Giulietta range, and made coupes with smaller displacement engines (105 Series). The small mills avoided the extra taxes associated with engines larger than 2 liters. At 1.3-liters Alfa’s 1300 GT was just what the lower end of the GT market wanted. Like most European brands, Alfa understood that performance was not just about displacement. A good handling and fun to drive platform was equally important, giving birth to the “Junior” range. For looks, Bertone would pin the exterior, making its brand of Italian Style accessible to a wider market. It was Bertone’s first big job, so making a lasting impression on the general populace was very important to the then new design studio.
At 89 hp for the initial Junior, the lack of grunt over the larger 1.7-liter 1750 GT Veloce was not all that pronounced. At just over 2,000 lb, the lightweight Junior could top out in the low three digit range and get to 60 in 12 seconds. These where respectable figures for any performance car, let alone an affordable one during the mid-sixties. The rear suspension was a tried and true beam axle with coil springs, but the Junior had plenty of advance technology under the hood.
Part of the reason it’s 1.3-liter displacement could produce nearly 90 hp was because of its twin cam set up. Rather advance for the time, it was not unlike what could be found on more expensive sports cars. While many models of the 1300 had dual carburetors, American bound cars would have fuel injection to meet Federal emissions standards. In a further nod to performance value, all Juniors were fitted with standard disc brakes all around.
Aside from performance, the 1300 and later 1600 Juniors were real lookers. The Bertone design was a more modern evolution of Giuseppe Scarnati’s design for the outgoing Giulia. The sophisticated lines and youthful demeanour found fans quickly. As practical as it was handsome, the well proportion coupe had a pronounced greenhouse with sculpted front and rear windows. Other upscale design touched included integrated headlights and wheels that filled the fender wells for an aggressive sporting look. European 1600s had quad headlamps for a more sophisticated look, while in the US they were dual units like 1300s everywhere.
The beauty continued inside with a simple flat faced dashboard with wood grain surfaces. Simple large dials highlighted the Juniors singular mission of fun in motion while a 5 speed manual shifter sat between the vinyl seats. This was a fine example of Italian craftsmanship at a reasonable price.
There were many variations of the Junior sold around the world. There was even an exotic looking Zagato designed version that featured a longer hood with a more flush and modern looking front end. From the A pillar forward, the Zagato GT was as sleek looking as any GT car from Monteverdi or De Tomaso. While Zagato GTs were not quite limited edition cars, they were produced nearly as long as the Junior itself from 1969 to 1976. They were built in Milan and sold primarily in European markets. More ordinary Juniors were produced in Italy and South Africa.
The Junior would evolve into the 70s by which time its somewhat rounded but timeless edges would be replaced by the more angular Alfetta GT, GTV and GTV6 range. Jniors are sought after today for their style and mechanical simplicity. The same reasons they were so popular in the 60s makes then collectible and highly tunable today. It’s not unusual to come across a Junior from this era with an engine swapped out by later owners who grew weary with the fussiness of the original inline four. GM V6 and even small block V8s have been known to reside under the hood of some Juniors (and Sprint GTVs). While that’s interesting, the original formula of affordable fun still holds true today for anyone lucky enough to come across an un-molested example of this beautiful Italian classic.